14 August 2018:
STOP has just started and aims to bring new meaning to the phrase “asking for a light,” when it comes to smoking.
STOP is an acronym for a new $20 million Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative to create a global watchdog to shed more light on the tobacco industry’s complex marketing and sales practices. The full STOP is “Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products.” Back on March 7 at the 2018 World Conference on Tobacco or Health, billionaire philanthropist Mike Bloomberg announced the opening of a competition to lead STOP. Teams comprising of up to 3 different organizations could apply as long as at least one organization was based in a low- or middle-income country since low and middle countries have recently become targets of tobacco companies. And yesterday, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the following winning team:
- The Tobacco Control Research Group at The University of Bath, which is located in Bath in the United Kingdom. This group has already been running a website entitled tobaccotactics.org that provides information on, you guessed it, the tobacco industry’s tactics. And there is no shortage of material. The website includes a list of known lobbying groups for the tobacco industry and a list of organizations and people that may have facilitated the tobacco industry’s efforts. Such lists can be quite enlightening since tobacco-related efforts and organizations don’t necessarily have obvious sounding names such as “Try to Get People to Smoke, LLC.” For example, Swedish Match may sound like a dating website for Swedish people but is instead a tobacco company, according to the website.
- The Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at Thammasat University’s School of Global Studies in Thailand. The Center has already established a catalog of tools and resources about tobacco industry (TI) interference with tobacco control. One such resource is the South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance’s (SEATCA’s) Tobacco Interference Index, a report on what the tobacco industry may be doing to thwart tobacco control in Southeast Asia. The report points out how ostensibly “do good” efforts may actually be ways of “getting in good” with government officials and getting around regulations. For example, you may think that a tobacco company supporting tree-planting in Cambodia is just an act of corporate social responsibility as long as they aren’t planting tobacco trees. But what else could they be planting with this activity? Could this be a way of planting themselves in front of policy makers?
- The Union, which is short for International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease along with sub-grantee Vital Strategies. The Union provides technical assistance for tobacco control efforts around the world such as promoting legislation to ban words like “light” and “mild” on tobacco packaging. (Is there such a thing as a mild amount of tobacco smoke in your lungs?) And I have already written for Forbes about Vital Strategies co-authoring the Tobacco Atlas with the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Kelly Henning, who leads the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health program, called STOP “an opportunity is to coordinate more robust efforts to disseminate information about the tobacco industry’s strategies and establish connections between this work and on the ground tobacco control action.” According to Henning, the STOP initiative will not only enhance existing efforts but also explore newer approaches such as leveraging “crowdsourcing and mobile devices.” Additionally, she mentioned that the STOP initiative can assist whistleblowers, tobacco industry insiders who can provide key information but may be afraid to do so without the support of a strong international organization.
Thus, going forward, if you are asking for a light, the answer may be STOP in more ways than one. If you want a light of a cigarette, consider the myriad of potential bad health consequences of smoking such as increasing the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke by 2 to 4 times and lung cancer by 25 times or more, as indicated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you want more light on the tobacco industry’s complex tactics, then STOP may be a good place to start.